Meet Kanya Sesser! This fearless lady is a skater, surfer, skier, activist, motivational speaker, model, and actress. Born without legs in Thailand, Kanya was found at three months old and brought to a local hospital, where she lived until entering foster care in Bangkok.
She was adopted through Holt International Children’s Services at the age of five and brought to the United States. With the motto “No legs, no limits, anything is possible,” Kanya tries everything and does anything she sets her mind and body to.
Jennifer Norman, the Human Beauty Movement’s founder, had the privilege of interviewing Kanya for The HBM’s Role Models podcast to discuss her adoption story and her love of sports, modeling, and acting, along with her views on self-love and inclusivity.
Read on to see what Kanya has to say about learning to accept yourself, while also fostering self-confidence and self-love. Kanya continues to set an example for many of us on the importance of following our dreams and being a role model for others.
Pictured: Kanya Sesser Source: Soranews
Jennifer: We have something in common; we were both adopted through Holt International! Tell us about you and your family!
Kanya: Doesn’t the universe just connect us so much? Holt is so amazing. I actually went to Holt’s camp every year until I was too old, and it was a blast. I loved seeing my friends grow up into beautiful humans alongside me during those years.
My family is wonderful. My mother, Jane, my father, David, and my two older brothers, Todd and Scott, are the best. My mother has always been there for me; she even took classes on how to raise a child with a disability when she first got me. Growing up, all I really knew was love.
I’m beyond lucky I got the family that I did. I talked to a lot of other adoptees, and this effortless family dynamic that I found wasn’t something that others got the privilege of. I’m just so happy I was able to be raised by a loving family in a good neighborhood.
Pictured: Young Kanya Sesser Source: Voyage LA
Jennifer: You’ve said that coming from Thailand, you had to relearn everything from the ground up so that you could thrive in the US. Can you tell us more about this experience?
Kanya: When I was adopted, I knew the Thai language pretty fluently, or as well as a five-year-old could. My mom, on the other hand, knew zero Thai. The nurses told her she needed to at least know a few common phrases so she could understand when I said something important, like if I needed to go to the bathroom.
My dad said I rarely used words, though. I mainly just pointed to get across what I needed or wanted. I know it was probably difficult for them to learn any Thai, as English and Thai are so different in terms of vocabulary and grammar. It was honestly really difficult for me to understand and learn English in general. Reading out loud was especially hard.
I remember later on in my life that my mom told me I had a learning disability, which was confusing to me because I was super smart back in Thailand. I really didn’t like the term “learning disability,” as I felt like I just had my own way of thinking and doing things. I knew I could grasp any concept if I were taught it.
Jennifer: You got into modeling at the age of 15 for sports brands like Billabong, Nike, and Volcom. Did you always know you wanted to model?
Kanya: It all happened when a person came up to me and told me that I’d be a great model. When this was said, my mind immediately went to the fact that The Dream Factory, which grants wishes to chronically ill children, had asked me what three wishes I’d like to make. Figuring out my wishes was actually difficult.
For my first wish, I asked for a car. Next, I asked to be a model because, you know, someone out there mentioned that I could be one. They set me up with a ton of free photography, along with makeup artists and hair stylists. The Dream Factory really went all out; we had all the puzzle pieces for a great modeling shoot.
After this experience, I began taking more pictures of myself. I’d print them and post them all up and down my walkway. If we’re being honest – I probably invented the selfie at that point. Later on, I started taking more pictures of myself in bikinis and swimsuits because I didn’t care about showing my body off.
I was never ashamed of having no legs. I knew there would be critics out in the world, but I was aware that I had a nice body, and I’d never be ashamed of it. Even if I wasn’t physically fit or “perfect,” I was happy and confident in my own skin. Modeling was a blast for me, and I blocked out those people who tried to bring me down.
Pictured: Kanya Sesser Source: Respect Women
Jennifer: You made global waves and shifted perspectives when you modeled lingerie for the brand Pantyprop, but you’ve mentioned the sexualization. However, I love your lingerie shots, and I think they’re beautiful and tasteful. I have nothing but love, appreciation, and admiration as you have so much confidence and are able to express your sexuality and divinity, truly.
Kanya: I’ve had many different interviews where they bring up how my modeling is a sexual thing. But I look at it as if I’m just posing in my swimsuit. I mean – I’m so in love with my body and myself, but what I’m wearing in photos doesn’t mean that I’m sexualizing myself. Maybe I just simply feel sexy and want to show off my confidence.
It’s like most people think I’m trying to purposefully attract attention from men, but that’s not what I’m doing, nor what I intend to do. I’m modeling what I want to wear because, hey, it’s a cute outfit. Or, I may be modeling today because it’s a beautiful day. Either way, I’m modeling for me and because I love it.
Jennifer: You’re also a very dedicated athlete, as you love to skate, surf, and snowboard! What do you think it was that made you want to explore all of these different types of sports?
Kanya: One day, in elementary school, I remember asking my mom what I should do because I was very interested in sports, and I was super extroverted. Growing up, I was also popular; everyone wanted to be my friend, which is quite a different situation than most people would guess.
At the age of nine, I was hanging out with a girl who had a skateboard. I asked if I could ride it, and well – the rest is history. I’ve adored skateboarding ever since. My mom bought me a skateboard to ride, and while going to skateparks to hang out and skate, I also found a love for surfing.
Pictured: Kanya Sesser Source: Voyage LA
Jennifer: What are your thoughts on inclusion and diversity within both the modeling and sports worlds? Have you witnessed any positive changes?
Kanya: I think that the modeling and sports worlds, along with all others, have a long way to go. While many brands are putting disabilities out there, I still feel like the majority that claim to be inclusive just aren’t. I’ve also noticed that some brands are limiting who should be a part of them, which is not inclusive at all.
It just seems like today, with a whole new generation and business model, that everyone is “Inclusion this and inclusion that,” but when you look deeper, it’s like most of the time, these brands are just spewing words and not walking their talk. I know they probably listen, but there isn’t any true inclusivity happening behind the scenes.
I will say, though, that a little goes a long way. I can see the world we live in is working to be a better, more inclusive place. I just know that we, as people living with a disability, are tired of others telling us what we can and can’t do. We are already in the X games and the Olympics, so don’t try and hold us back. We can do anything.
Jennifer: Not only do you model and participate in a ton of sports, but you’re also a motivational speaker. What are some reactions you’ve had to your speeches?
Kanya: You know, there’s always gonna be haters, but honestly, I look at it as it’s not you, it’s them. I especially notice the sexual behaviors, which are so disrespectful. I often hear, “Would you tap that?” or “Would you hit that?” I try to ignore these comments, but they’re just so gross and disgusting.
Not too long ago, I posted a photo of me on Instagram in a bikini that I felt so beautiful in. Plus, it was going to be published in People Magazine, which is so cool, right? I received awful comments, though. Some read, “Our world is dying out because of people like you” and “You should just kill yourself.”
I had such a good support system, though. Sometimes, I’d write back saying, “Hey. You know what? I want nothing but good vibes around me. I hope your day gets better. Sending lots of love.” I just don’t have time for negative people, so this was my way of bringing more positivity into the world.
I’m well aware that there will always be negative things in life, and it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. We are all humans, and sometimes, we make mistakes. I really think living my dreams and being happy just scares people sometimes. But, like, why? I think that’s the question we need to answer.
Jennifer: Do you have any self-care rituals that keep you feeling motivated, positive, and empowered?
Kanya: I feel like a balance of things is good and healthy. But if I’m being honest, I’m not always healthy. I love having soda pretty often, but I try not to drink it daily. I also love cooking for myself, especially chicken dishes. I’m a big advocate for a healthy balance of everything in your life; it makes a difference.
I know that some healthy stuff does taste like garbage, but it’s just important to read your body as it will tell you what it needs, wants, and craves. It’s also about what your body can process, but just know that life doesn’t always have to be healthy.
Jennifer: What do you have coming up? Any big plans?
Kanya: Yes! I got the role of Rose in The Keeper, which is in pre-production. I also have a movie coming out in December that’s kind of like an 1880s dungeon movie. When it comes to sports, I stay busy, and I’m always competing, so there will definitely be more of that in the future.
Pictured: Kanya Sesser Source: Cater’s News
To hear more of Kanya’s interview on the Role Models podcast, where she chats deeper in depth about sports and modeling, the playground for disabled children her mother created, and the beautiful love and admiration she has fostered for herself, click here.
Be Loud For Project ROAR
Kanya Sesser uses her voice loud and proud to advocate for the causes she supports; one of those is Project ROAR. She, along with The Human Beauty Movement, believes that everyone deserves to take part in what they love.
Project ROAR’s mission is to create experiences for anyone with any level of mobility to enjoy outdoor sports by providing equipment and education to learn in a safe environment, while also empowering those living with disabilities to live healthy, happy, and fulfilling lives.
You can get involved with Project ROAR here.
If you’d like the support of others who share your views on inclusivity, diversity, and acceptance, join The Human Beauty Movement community here.